WASHINGTON — A year after President Donald Trump picked former California Rep. Darrell Issa to run the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, a Senate hearing to consider the nomination was postponed over how to handle questions raised in his FBI file.
In front of Issa, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, pushed for the public hearing to turn to a private session in which every member on the panel could learn of confidential information that only he and chairman Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, knew to save Issa from any “embarrassment or harm.”
“There’s information in his FBI background investigation that concerns me greatly, and that I believe members may find problematic, and potentially disqualifying for Senate confirmation,” Menendez said. “I firmly believe that every member of this committee should have the opportunity to review that information.”
The panel held a vote. While Risch could have proceeded, a split between all Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican of Kentucky, and all other Republicans gave him pause. Paul said that Menendez’s motion was a “courtesy” to Issa and called Risch’s process “terrible,” since the senators could learn of potentially sensitive material about the nominee at the same time as the public.
After the 11-to-11 vote, Risch called for a short break and met with Issa, Menendez and others. When Risch returned to the hearing room on Capitol Hill, Issa did not. Risch then called for Issa’s hearing to be postponed so that all senators on the panel could review the file.
CNN has reached out to a representative for Issa for comment and has not yet received a response. Risch told CNN, “I saw nothing in the FBI files that would be a disqualification, but you know, everybody views things differently.”
Issa may have a backup plan if his nomination doesn’t advance through the Senate. Three weeks ago, he launched an exploratory committee to run for a congressional seat now held by another California Republican, Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is facing federal corruption charges.
The former chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Issa was a constant nuisance to the Obama administration, overseeing investigations and contentious hearings into the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups, amid other issues.
Issa was first elected to the House in 2000. He served until he decided not to seek reelection last year. Issa, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, represented a Southern California seat that flipped to the Democrats along with a handful of others in 2018. His old district adjoined Hunter’s, a safer seat for Republicans.
In June, Hunter’s wife Margaret pleaded guilty to conspiring with her husband to “knowingly and willingly” convert more than $200,000 in campaign funds for personal use. She has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran, has served in the House since his election in 2008, when his father retired and gave up the seat. He has asserted that he and his wife were targeted by the Department of Justice for political reasons.
California’s filing deadline for the race is in early December.